Caring for Your Antique Clocks
antique clocks are valuable mechanical instruments. As such, they
need to be cared for regularly, but few people do. Perhaps they take
them for granted since modern digital clocks run continuously as
long as they have power. But while a modern clock may keep on
ticking, it’s much like a robot. An antique clock, on the other
hand, has a soul—a soul that needs looking after.
Antique clocks generally suffer from three things—careless
positioning, incorrect display, and over-enthusiastic handling.
Believe it or not, direct sunlight can harm them, and so can
extremes of temperature or moisture.
Have your clock lubricated service every four or five years—it costs
less than you think. And a full service at 10 years. An antique
clock normally runs constantly, so it works much harder than your
car which will demand servicing more frequently, plus it costs a
fraction of what a car does to be serviced. The wear and tear is
Positioning an Antique Clock
worst location for an antique clock is on a mantelpiece over a
working fireplace. Probably because the mantel was often the
centerpiece of the room and was a convenient place to put a clock.
Don't position your clock above or close to a radiator, or in direct
sunlight, or where children’s fingers can reach it. Changing
temperatures and humidity are harmful in the long term but even in
the short term lead to poor timekeeping.
Careless or unexpected movement can also affect the workings of a
clock’s delicate mechanism. All long case standing clocks and
wall-hung varieties should be screwed to the wall or to a solid
wooden wall bracket or mount to keep them from getting out of beat.
To maintain accurate time, a clock must remain “in beat.” Once a
clock has been leveled, it will produce a perfect beat or cadence to
the tick-tock. The sound should be consistent with even spacing
between each “tic” and “toc.”
a wall clock on a decent length screw properly secured in the wall,
and never on string, a nail or a picture hanger. Unless secured at
the bottom as well, also remember that when you open the door to
wind it, the clock case will kick sideways.
Before moving an antique clock, check that there are no detachable
parts and don’t rely on handles but hold the object under the base
with both hands. And secure the clock key or keys—should your clock
have a winding key or crank and a door key.
Secure the pendulum of a spring clock by the clip provided or by the
spring clamp on many English bracket and mantle clocks. Otherwise
remove the pendulum. And remove the weights and pendulum on any
clock that has them. For tall case or grandfather clocks, also
separate the case hood and movement. If the suspension rod to which
the pendulum is attached set in motion while being moved, let it run
Cleaning an Antique Clock
Cleaning an antique clock should be done very carefully with a soft
lint-free cloth and a soft-bristle brush. Avoid metal polishes which
may seep into the movement or destroy a valuable patina, like the
patina on a brass carriage clock.
Unless the finish is totally ruined, do not refinish the case, as
this can affect the clock’s value. There are products designed
specifically for cleaning clock cases, so if you feel you must clean
the case, use Murphy’s Oil Soap or Merritt’s Clock Cleaner
(Curator’s Clock Case Restorer).
a Minwax Paste Wax to polish the wood case and avoid silicone spray
They’re designed to create an intense shine but clog the pores and
grain, preventing the natural wood from breathing.
For stubborn marks on a glass face use a cotton ball damped in a
mild detergent solution or methylated spirits. Rinse with another
damp cotton ball and buff gently with a chamois. Don’t attempt to
clean any of the mechanical parts of a clock movement yourself.
Leave that to a clock specialist.
Do not attempt to polish the metal dial with any metal polish. While
most metal dials are ‘silvered’ – the layer is so thin that any
attempt to polish will most likely result in wearing the finish off.
This is also true for bezels. So resist the urge to polish. Getting
a dial re-silvered can be expensive, as the numbers will have to be
Keep the Clock Running
Keep an antique clock running. It won’t wear out for decades and can
always be repaired when it does. A clock that is left idle for weeks
and months will eventually dry up and tends to be more difficult to
get going again without proper service.
sure that the key is the correct one for the clock and only turn it
firmly to the point of resistance. If you go away longer than the
next due winding, stop the clock to avoid damage to the escapement
when it winds down.
If an antique clock is an 8-day clock, wind it fully every week on
the same day. Most 8- day clocks will run for 10 to 12 or even 14
days but the timekeeping deteriorates progressively after 7 days as
the mainspring gradually loses power. If it's a 30-hour clock, wind
it every night before bed for the same reason.
Not all clocks wind in the same direction so make sure you’re
winding your clock in the correct direction. Don’t be afraid of
overwinding your clock. The key of a fully wound clock comes to a
complete stop and won’t go beyond that point.
If your clock has a pendulum, you can lengthen the effective length
of the pendulum to slow down the clock; if you shorten the effective
length of the pendulum the clock will run faster. How much you
adjust the pendulum will depend on each individual clock.
adjust the minute hand of a clock, gently turn the hands
clockwise—never counter-clockwise. If the hands jam, move the minute
hand back a fraction but never back past the hour. If this doesn’t
free them, take the clock to a clockmaker.
Likewise, don’t try to oil or lubricate an antique clock in any way.
Even oiling the mechanism of a valuable clock can be risky if you
don’t know where to apply it, and too much or too thick an oil can
attract abrasive grime which can affect the mechanism. Horologists
use a special oil that enables the smooth operation of a clock
Even if an antique clock seems to be in good working order, have it
periodically checked by a professional. Weight-driven clocks go for
a longer time between servicing while clocks with a balance wheel
require shorter periods between servicing because their finer parts
wear down faster.
future of your horological antiques today.